I am going to try commuting to work via bike and am really excited about it. The problem is, I haven't really ridden a bike in the past 15 years, when I was in high school. I used to love biking but it just was never really possible to bike to work until now. What are some big ways in which cycling has changed in the past 15 years or so?
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One thing that I think has changed significantly is the quality of department store bikes. It used to be that you could go down to your local department store to get a quality bike. I'm not sure exactly when the transition happened, whether it was 10, 15, or 20 years ago, but at some point, almost all the bikes at large retailers became extremely low quality. Canadian Tire used to be a place to get a pretty decent bike. I use a 20 year old Canadian Tire (SuperCycle) as my rain bike.
You pretty much have to go to a bike shop, or at least a dedicated sports store to get a decent quality bike that you can depend on. And when you are commuting, you want something you can depend on.
A few differences off the top of my (mtb) head:
- Hydroforming of aluminium tubes
- Wider use of carbon for frames and wheels, not just top end bikes and on aggressive mountain bikes
- Disc brakes, both hydraulic and mechanical disc brakes are standard on mountain and hybrid bikes but slowly gaining momentum on touring, road and cyclocross bikes
- Electronic shifting on road bikes, Shimano D12 and other brands use servos to power shifting for more responsive and lighter changes
- Clutch derailleurs on mountain bikes to eliminate chain slap
- Dual chamber air sprung suspension, dual chambers provide negative pressure
- Remote everything, cockpits are now designed so that all manner of adjustments can be made to a bike on the fly such as seat height and suspension firmness
- Dropper posts on mountain bikes, while gravity posts have been around for years hydraulic posts are now common for dropping and raising saddles on the fly.
- Thru axles are slowing taking over QRs as standard on mountain bikes and have less flex than QRs
- Tubeless wheels, no longer do many wheels and tyre sets require tubes
- Various different full suspension designs, but there's no best design
- Tapered head tube on mountain bikes to provide more stiffness
- Narrow-wide chain rings to support 1x drive trains
- Press fit headsets and bottom brackets, while headsets are a bit older and been available 15 years ago there are now numerous standards of press fit bottom brackets
- Through axle crankshafts (what's the right wording here?) BBs no longer have an integrated spindle and that is part of the crankset, again for stiffness
- 29" mountain bikes to roll over things better
- 27.5" (650B) mountain bikes to roll over things a little less better but to turn better
- Slacker head tubes on mountain bikes for more stability downhill
- Cyclocross European mud racing on road bikes has become popular across the world and now most brands carry a cyclocross off road bike in their range, good on both road and gravel and hardy commuters
- Enduro European gravity racing paired with climbing (either aggressive XC or mostly downhill racing however you want to look at it) has become a term to describe previous all-mountain bikes. Usually fluro colours with about 160mm of travel
- Fat bikes large tired (wide) mountain bikes
Performing Enhancing Drugs
- Apparently people no longer take them, it's no longer the in thing to do
- BMX became an Olympic sport
- All mountain/endure helmets providing back of head protection
Others have mentioned changes in the available equipment and the increase in bike lanes and paths.
Two major changes I've seen in my area are
A huge increase in traffic volume. I would expect this to be the case in your location also. So there are a whole bunch of commuting skills to learn - see
What do you wish someone had told you before your first commute?,
Safety guidelines for cycling in traffic, and
What advanced cycling skills are useful for a commuter or city rider?.
In the last ten years, drivers in the suburbs have become much more bicycle aware. I mention it because it's a change, but it only slightly dilutes the effect of the increased traffic. I've seen no change in outer suburban fringe areas. Inner city gridlock is still the same. Do these observations translate to LA? Only someone who rides there can tell you.
There a few questions that mention Los Angeles that may also help you.